Beach Chicks

Unless you live near the coast or visit frequently, there may only be a few times in your life that you will get to see hatchling shorebirds scampering at the surf line. I count myself fortunate to have visited the coast of Massachusetts last week at the perfect time to see piping plover chicks. Running around on stilt-legs, the tiny puff balls were foraging at the water’s edge, already managing to avoid getting swamped or stomped on by beachgoers. These birds were at least several days old, though piping plover chicks can walk and feed themselves within hours of hatching. As we walked, a new chick or family group appeared every 20 feet or so, as if they had drawn an invisible line in the sand to mark their territory. Other beachgoers strode right by and never noticed them. To be sure, birds the color of sand are not easily seen. So, if you are heading to the coast, take notice! There’s a lot more than surf to watch.

Tips and Techniques– I don’t always bring my sketchbook to the beach, but I had it along with me in hopes of seeing nesting least terns. I was lucky to see those too, but it was the piping plover chicks that really captivated me. I sketched the birds very quickly in pencil, making light lines to mark their posture and gestures. Back home, I fleshed out the bodies, refined the shapes, and filled in the details, using videos for reference. When I was satisfied with the pencil sketch, I inked the lines with a fine Micron 005 pen and then added watercolor. I didn’t actually see piping plover eggs, so I used a reference photo for a single egg and created the four eggs pointing inward as they typically are in a piping plover nest.

25 Comments on “Beach Chicks

  1. Wonderful post, and I agree, there’s a lot more to see (sea?) at the beach than just the water!

  2. Lovely and thank you for the ideas of how to finish a sketch at home!

  3. What a great experience this must have been! I haven’t been to the coast of Massachusetts but I want to visit especially after reading your blog. Your sketches are beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I love all of your sketches Jean, but am particularly drawn to this one since it is of Piping Plovers. Here along Lakes Erie & Michigan their nesting grounds are very closely monitored and in most cases, are surrounded by temporary fencing. Their numbers have dwindled so much over the last 30 yrs.that they are now considered endangered. In 1986 we were down to less than 20 pairs and now, with careful monitoring, banding and captive rearing the numbers are up to about 76 pairs nesting in this region. I adore the chicks and those little legs. Thanks for the info on how the eggs are situated in their nests. I haven’t ever seen any in person and haven’t noticed that consistency of configuration in any of the photos I’ve seen. I love learning about nature!

    • Thanks Diana. They are monitored on the east coast beaches too and nesting areas are roped off. Their status here is Federally Threatened, while yours in the Great Lakes are Endangered. Hope they continue to rebound!

  5. Great timing and lucky you, Jean. Oh, I’d love to see these little guys. Seeing them here is almost as good as in person though. The variety of “attitudes” you show is fun and the eggs, wow, perfect speckling, subtle reflections, and shadows.

  6. Thank you for sharing. Very special. Really enjoy your postings. They inspire me to get out in nature more..

  7. Thank you for so generously sharing your techniques. They are very inspirational and the chicks are too adorable.
    I’ve not done much in the way of birds but you give me courage.

    • We all start with awkward steps. It takes some study and practice to get the hang of the basic shapes and anatomy of birds, but it’s well worth the effort. Give it a go!

  8. What a sight to capture. Thank you for explaining how you went about sketching at the beach. I’m curious if you will share what you are using as your sketch pad/watercolor pad? I like the size of it and how it lays and bonus points that you can use watercolors in it.

    I’m just starting out with nature journaling.

    • Hi Lee- there are many options for journals and you may need to try a few to see what suits your style. I am using a Handbook – Watercolor with 140lb paper. Handbook also makes a journal with mixed media paper that is also pretty good with watercolor. The size is 5.5×8.5 or so…opens to 8.5×11”. I find it easy to take in the field and quite sturdy. Good luck and enjoy!

  9. Fell in love with your plover journal pages hook, line and sinker! They are truly puffballs these little guys. I was immediately reminded of an anchorage we pulled into somewhere along the coast of Long Island Sound. The plover chicks were running everywhere, then would hurriedly tuck under mom’s protective body. Those legs! Thanks so much for the always helpful tips on sketching techniques and follow up for page finishing. Your many approaches to nature journaling keep me inspired. Your pages are such a delight!

  10. Wonderful pages. We do not have plovers here although they remind me a bit of our Killdeer Hope you have a good week.

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